Spring game: 10 players to keep an eye on

April 13, 2012 

Damario Jeffery and the Gamecocks hold a spring practice at Williams-Brice Stadium Thursday.

RENEE ITTNER-MCMANUS — rittnermcmanus@thestate.com

  • SPRING GAME WHAT: Garnet and Black game WHEN: 1 p.m., Saturday WHERE: Williams-Brice Stadium ADMISSION: Free ALSO: Pregame kids event with motivational speakers starts at 11 a.m.; Fan Fest starts after the game

South Carolina fans will flock to Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday to see the Gamecocks’ stars perform in the team’s annual spring game.

The coaches will come for a very different reason. While quarterback Connor Shaw, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and other high-profile Gamecocks will play some, they won’t see much action as coach Steve Spurrier and his staff plan to use the spring game mostly to evaluate young and backup players.

With that in mind, here are three key players who have something to prove Saturday.

Kenny Miles

The senior running back has not committed to returning in the fall, but his coaches and teammates believe he will. He has looked this spring like he belongs. After a rollercoaster three years in which he has totaled 982 yards, Miles has run as well this spring as he has at any time during his career. If he returns, he looks like the most likely candidate to be Marcus Lattimore’s top backup.

Dylan Thompson

The sophomore quarterback started spring practice so slowly that rarely used senior Seth Strickland almost took his job. However, Thompson’s performance has improved the last two weeks, and he is expected to get more snaps at quarterback than any player Saturday. If he performs well, he’ll cement his job as Connor Shaw’s backup, which will be a key role considering how much Shaw runs the football.

Damario Jeffery

The Gamecocks want the senior to be their starting weakside linebacker in the fall, and he’s played that spot all spring, but Jeffery has never played linebacker before. Jeffery, 6-foot-4 and 233 pounds, was a highly regarded recruit coming out of Columbia High School, but South Carolina has yet to find a spot where he fits well. He was recruited to be play the team’s spur position but has only started four games in three years.

More players to keep an eye on

... Damiere Byrd: The speedy sophomore receiver has been impressive at times this spring and figures to see plenty of snaps at a few deep balls on Saturday.

... Jared Shaw: The senior walk-on has had one of the best springs of any Gamecock, including two interceptions for touchdowns during scrimmage situations.

... The punters and kickers: Special teams coordinator Joe Robinson won’t declare starters yet, he said, because he doesn’t have to. Adam Yates and Landon Ard continue to battle for kicking duties, while Mike Williamson and Brett Cleveland are leading the way for the punting role.

... Drew Owens: The 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman is the tallest of USC’s deep group of tight ends and has had an impressive spring catching the ball while sophomore roommate Rory Anderson recovers from an injury.

... DeAngelo Smith: With Alshon Jeffery seeing minimal spring game action last year, Smith led the Gamecocks with four catches for 118 yards and three touchdowns. He followed that with a total of three regular-season catches. Smith, a redshirt junior, could be the starter this year in Jeffery’s old spot.

... Jimmy Legree: Legree has had two solid springs in a row. He caught two interceptions in last year’s spring game and opened the season as a starter at safety before losing playing time down the stretch. USC switched him to cornerback, where he’s seen plenty of snaps and made a few plays with Akeem Auguste resting.

... Tanner McEvoy: The redshirt freshman quarterback struggled a bit this spring and was passed on the depth chart by Seth Strickland. The class of 2011’s lone quarterback signee figures to see time in at least a series or two on Saturday. A good showing would boost his confidence heading into the summer.

Dwayne McLemore contributed to this report

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